It has been discussed in public forum of late the particular sin of a particular young man. As he is a public figure, his image and reputation have taken a beating. To begin this discussion, I would start by first differentiating The Law from civil ordinance. The Law of God as expressed in the Decalogue and interpreted by Jesus is incontrovertible, absolute, fundamental and at the same time impossible. Civil ordinance is by man for man, judged by man, enforced by man and punished by man. It has a purpose that in many respects parallels the Law, but takes far more specifics into account. Case law is another animal altogether and beyond the scope of this post. To discuss the doctrines of grace, one is entering into discourse concerning The Law of God.
The doctrines of grace are a set of principles that were a response to a challenge by the followers of Jacob Arminius to the followers of John Calvin by those same followers of Calvin. We use the English acronym TULIP to abbreviate those doctrines, but this often seems to wash the discussion of any serious consideration. The mere mentioning of the word “Calvinist” shuts down the brains of many who would rather lose their eyes than read about anything as heretical as God’s grace. Nonetheless, that is where I will soldier onward with the post.
In order to understand grace, you have to understand the problem. The problem is the fall, the fall of Adam, and the resultant inherited condemnation of all men under the Law. Many have said that this is not fair, that we should inherit the guilt of our fathers. Yet, examples of this are as plain in human history as our noses, and we still deny this basic tenet. Are monarchies fair? Ask the Romanovs, the children. The punishment for Adam's sin was death. God said that we have inherited this guilt forever (Genesis 3:17-19) for surely there are no true human immortals on this earth. Our faith is based upon a lifting of this curse by some mechanism. So, the first doctrine of grace is that all humans are born into sin without exception.
Now, it comes to this, some people are saved by God for God. It should come to no one’s surprise that there are people in this world who are damned for all time. Without a doubt, Judas Iscariot falls into this category. In Matthew 27, Judas changes his mind and attempts to return the thirty pieces of silver. In the Greek, the word for changing your mind is different than that for repent. Thus, Judas is said to not have repented and is therefore condemned. If you accept that God, as the potter, has the right to make one vessel for one purpose and another vessel for another purpose, and that there are no conditions made by that vessel that can effect God’s purpose, then you are understanding the concept of God’s sovereignty.
This next point is tricky, but it follows directly from the above. God has decided to save some of humanity for Himself. Which ones? Only He knows, but there is nothing any of us can do about becoming one of His vessels chosen for salvation. Again, this is a sovereignty issue. The manner of this salvation is of course not disputed: Christ came into the world to save sinners.
If God has selected you for salvation, it is going to happen. There is nothing that you can do about it. It’s like catching chicken pox. One day, you will find yourself in the right place at the right time, and it just happens. Just like chicken pox, once you have been selected, you cannot be unselected. Why would God undo His own will? So, His grace is sufficient for His people, completely sufficient.
Some of you are astute readers, and would have recognized these doctrines of grace for what they are without the benefit of their English acronym labels. But this is just pure logic from the pen of the Reformers. The doctrines of grace mean that God ultimately chooses His own people, and we do not hold the answers to who is on the roster. There are many side issues that happen along this discussion that I will not wander upon today, but when a Reformed person talks about grace, that person has a very high view of God’s sovereignty and a very humble view of his own merits.
Which brings me back to this young public figure and the definitions of judgment and discernment. There is only one Judge, and I am not He. Judgment is coming, and God already knows the verdict. We are all guilty, yes, guilty. See total depravity above concerning the problem of sin. But some of us have an Advocate with the Father, one who has ransomed our salvation with His own blood. We have been reclaimed from the refuse heap, saved from damnation, selected for eternal life. Judgment is not a human thing in this context.
Discernment is another matter. We are charged to discern between right preaching, right theology and that other gospel that is not really the gospel at all. Not all people are equally equipped in this matter, and many should avoid that playing field entirely. Because the penalty for wrong shepherds are steep indeed according to Paul’s letters to Timothy. With leadership comes great responsibility. Discernment is the realm of wisdom, the application of reason and knowledge to the arena of faith. Discernment is about interpretation and hermeneutics, a fertile ground for disagreement even amongst biblical scholars. Yet, it doesn’t take a PhD to recognize some obvious failings of doctrine.
In the realm of men, we have civil laws. We have social responsibilities. We have actions and consequences. In civil law, we in the West begin from a very different starting point. Go back to the third paragraph: God starts from the position that all of humanity is damned. Humans in our civil undertakings start from the opposite premise that all of humanity is innocent. If you do not recognize that this is a vastly different playing field, then you will be doomed to misunderstand judgment in the two contexts. Humans judge humans according to civil ordinances and social standards. Actions have consequences in this realm. An infringement of the civil law should have a commensurate judgment and punishment. In this way, men judge men.
No one is suggesting that our young public figure should escape civil justice, far from it. God instructs us to respect the laws of men for a reason, namely, he fully expects us all to mess it up from time to time. We are all inheritors of the fall, after all. In addition, the world is made up of vessels chosen for salvation and those who were not. Both the Law and civil law applies to all of us, but the civil law is something that we ourselves can police and enforce.
Let me introduce another word here: discipline. Discipline is not just punishment. Punishment is the result of an adverse judgment. Discipline involves correction. Our responsibility as Christians is to discipline our own. This means that we should come alongside each other and help them to correct their errs and assist in creating patterns of behavior that best resemble those set forth by The Law as explained by Christ. Let me emphasize not the correction, but the coming alongside portion of that definition. Do you think that publically ridiculing this young man has any place in the sort of discipline that I am describing?
I need to introduce one last term: forgiveness. Recite the Lord’s Prayer right now. Go on, I’ll wait. “…forgive us our sins (trespasses) as we forgive those who sin (trespass) against us." (My apologies to those who use “debtors” in this place.) So, according to the Lord’s Prayer, and many other places besides, we have an obligation to forgive. We have an OBLIGATION to FORGIVE. This is not an option for Christians. Why? Because judgment under the Law of God is not our province. We must forgive, that is our province.
Finally, coming back again to our young public figure. Let us walk through a full and appropriate response to his actions. First, under civil law, he is innocent until proven guilty. Once adjudged guilty, he will be punished. Second, under social convention, our standards are not as high. He has already been adjudged unworthy of his position as a public figure and accordingly punished. As Christians, our obligation is to forgive him his sin. As Christians in his local Christian community, those involved must also exercise discipline, to come alongside the young man and redirect his actions, showing him the way and assisting him in developing habits worthy of his calling as one of Christ’s own.
There are certainly nuances and what if games to play, but this should be sufficient discussion of this topic to allow for a more successful discernment of the issues at play in this discussion.